Smart Mining Beckhoff automation smart mining tailings

Beckhoff Automation believes that the smart/digital revolution is the only sure way to secure a sustainable future in the mining sector.

KENNETH MCPHERSON, MD of Beckhoff Automation’s wholly-owned South African subsidiary company, tells LAURA CORNISH why.

This article first appeared in Mining Review Africa Issue 1, 2019

“The mining industry – both globally and in Africa – is no longer in a position to be questioning if the incorporation of automation technologies is relevant to their business.

“The reality is that if these companies want to survive they have to bring their businesses into a new era in which automation technologies guarantees lower costs and greater production efficiencies.”

The African mining sector’s greatest concern stemming from automation is assuring local governments and stakeholders that such technology will not reduce job creation and employment opportunity.

“In actual fact, automation has the power to ensure sustainable job creation well into the future as it in many cases ensures a mine remains profitable enough to continue producing in weaker market environments – “and in turn secures employment.”

Fortunately, Beckhoff Automation has more recently seen a significant increase in interest from the mining sector to evaluate and introduce automation technology into their operations.

“This can be seen by the number of high level strategic discussions taking place between ourselves and potential customers on integrating Beckhoff technology into their mines.”

Customers should also feel comfortable that Beckhoff not only understands their technical requirements but as a leader in the field will deliver the best results as well, the MD notes.

“We are the largest, privately owned industrial automation company in Germany offering our industries extensive expertise from a high percentage of technical engineers who are continuously doing research and development to expand upon and improve our wide range of in-house developed and manufactured products.

“Over our 12-year history in South Africa, the mining industry has come to recognise this and is now acknowledging Beckhoff as a high quality business and technology leader.”

As such, the company is looking to grow significantly in 2019 on the back of the mining industry’s rapid intention to adopt technologies in the automation sphere.

“You will not find a better price-to-performance ratio product range on the market thanks to our modular software approach and our PC-based open, standardised architecture which delivers exceptional power,” MᶜPherson highlights.

To ensure the mining industry is not overwhelmed by the concept of automating its intensive processes, Beckhoff assures that automation integration can be delivered in a seamless, slow, step-by-step approach, enabling clients to realise the benefits of utilising a system that is powerful, open and easy to use.

Remaining at the top of its game

MᶜPherson notes Beckhoff Automation’s active participation and contributions to the OPC (Open Platform Communications) Foundation which controls and determines the interoperability standard for the secure and reliable exchange of data in the industrial automation space and in other industries.

Its platform is independent and ensures the seamless flow of information among devices from multiple vendors. The OPC Foundation is responsible for the development and maintenance of this standard.

In October 2018, the OPC Foundation announced the appointment of Stefan Hoppe as its next president and executive director. Hoppe is a long-standing member of the control automation industry and the OPC Foundation.

As an electrical engineer, he joined Beckhoff Automation in 1995 where he developed OPC classic server and in 2006 the world first OPC UA server integrated into an embedded controller.

Experts see OPC UA as a core communication standard in the emerging IoT and Industrie 4.0 movements.

In 2008 he initiated and chaired the PLCopen OPC UA Companion working group which results are adopted in process industries and discrete manufacturing by multiple international well-known vendors.

In 2010 he was elected for president of OPC Foundation Europe. Since 2014, he has filled the role of vice president of the OPC Foundation and a member of the OPC Board.

Discussing his views on the future adoption of OPC technology Hoppe says, “the value of the open, secure, vendor independent data interoperability the OPC UA standard introduces is universal and is as important to IoT applications across all markets as Ethernet was to connect computers and is to the Internet. My mission is to position and grow the OPC Foundation to work on this scale.”

Since Hoppe’s appointment, the OPC Foundation has launched its new setup to identify OPC UA and related TSN-harmonisation needs to extend the OPC Foundation standards and specifications.

The goal of this initiative is to deliver an open, cohesive approach to implement OPC UA including TSN and associated application profiles.

This will advance the OPC Foundation providing vendor independent end-to-end interoperability into field level devices for all relevant industry automation use-cases.

A new set of working groups will identify, manage and standardise the OPC UA relevant topics focused on industrial automation including:

  • harmonisation and standardisation of application profiles e.g. IO, motion control, safety, system redundancy;
  • standardisation of OPC UA information models for field level devices in offline e.g. device description and online e.g. diagnostics;
  • mapping of OPC UA application profiles related to real-time operations on Ethernet networks including TSN; and
  • definition of certification procedures.

The working groups will closely align with the TSN Profile for Industrial Automation (TSN-IA-Profile) which will be standardised by the IEC/IEEE 60802 standardization group.

This will help ensure that a single, converged TSN network approach is maintained so that OPC UA can share one common multi-vendor TSN network infrastructure together with other applications. 

This initiative integrates well with existing joint working groups engaged in ongoing companion specification e.g. description of machines.

Stefan Hoppe, President of the OPC Foundation said “The benefit of membership in the OPC Foundation allows companies to actively engage and influence the direction of the OPC Foundation and includes early access to the specifications and technology. This initiative will grow OPC UA into new markets and I highly encourage all OPC Foundation members to contact us to participate”.

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